[Defining Decisions is a series of blog posts on the 20 life-shaping decisions I made in my 20s.]
This blog post is about the most important decision I have ever made and how it has defined my life. I decided the one thing I am willing to die for, and I am (and will) spend my life living for that one thing. This is the key to living a life with passion and purpose.
When I was 25, I read a book titled “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper that changed my life. At that time, I had quit my job and was in the midst of spending 6 months travelling in Asia. I was having a quarter-life crisis and desperately trying to find out who I was and what to do with my life. The title of the book grabbed my attention, because I was determined not to waste my life. As Piper wrote, “I wanted to understand the main thing about life and pursue it.”
“If we know how to die well, we will know how to live well” said Piper in his book. What the author challenged me to think about was to decide the ONE THING I would be willing to die for. That ONE THING would be my life’s passion. That ONE THING would be what my life was about and what I should live for.
Why only one thing? Well, one reason was that I’m a terrible multi-tasker. But a more serious reason was that deciding the one thing you live and die for helped you to focus. Life is short. If you try to do too much, you end up doing nothing. When I die, I want it to be very clear what my life was about. And I can only die once.
As I pondered this question of the one thing I would be willing to die for, I came up with three possible answers.
1) I could live (and die) for myself. I could live for my own happiness and satisfaction. I could spend my life searching for the things that would make me happy. I could gain happiness through love, friendships, family, work, prestige, fame, power, sex, drugs, alcohol, peace, popularity, money, excitement, or freedom. Whatever it was, I would spend my life finding it and enjoying it.
2) I could live (and die) for others. I could spend my time and energy providing the best life for my future wife and children. I could risk my life fighting for my country. I could give myself to an underprivileged group of people to help them have a better life.
3) I could live (and die) for a higher power. I could commit my life to serve and glorify God (whatever god I chose to believe in). I would study the scriptures, dedicate my time to meditation and prayer, be completely obedient to God, and live my life to please God.
I wanted all three of course. But to choose only one? That was difficult.
The most appealing thing about living for myself is that I was the boss. I would be in control and do whatever I wanted do. This decision would define myself as the most important thing and person in life. It would mean that I loved myself more than others. In essence, I would decide that my own value and worth was greater than that of others. If I am to be honest, deep down, this would feel good. I want to be valued and important. Who doesn’t? But the downside is that this kind of life lacks meaning.
Living for others seems heroic. Many of the people our culture admires chose to sacrifice their life for others. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., William Wilberforce… I could choose to live for others – love them more than loving myself. I have always dreamed of having my own family – a wife and kids whom I love and adore. I would willingly give up my life for them. The harder question is how. How could I help others? What would I die trying to do for others? I recently became a father. When I think about my daughter, what is the best way to love and serve her? Would it be financial security? Or educating and training her to have skills to succeed? Or finding the best husband for her?
Then there’s the last option: living for God. Perhaps the most amazing and mysterious thing about the Christian faith is that when you choose to live for God, you end up also living your life for yourself and for others. The choice to live for God is also a choice to live for yourself, which is also a choice to live for others. In essence, I could live for God, for myself, and for others all at the same time. Let me explain.
What God wants me to do is to place Him first in my life, to treasure and value Him above all other people and things. John Piper puts it this way, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” Jesus puts it this way, “If you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” (Matt 10:39, MSG) What I take from this is that God says the best thing for my life is God. If I were truly hedonistic, wanting to live my life the most satisfying way possible, I would choose to live for God because God is the most satisfying thing in the world.
The other amazing thing is that God tells us to love others. “Love your neighbour as yourself”, Jesus says in Matthew 22:39. He even goes further and says, “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.” (Matt 5:44-46, MSG)
So to live for God is to live for myself and live for others. Perhaps I can have all three things.
The older I get, the more convinced I am that God is the best thing for me and for many of the people in my life. And I will live my life to prove this. This, I have concluded, is the one thing I will die for.
What is the one thing you will die for?